The Hullabaloo over Lollapalooza: Another Brick in the Neutrality Wall

by on August 14, 2007 · 12 comments

Net neutrality regulation has often been described as a “solution without a problem.” While supporters produce hypothetical concerns like little chocolate doughnuts, real-life examples of abuse have been virtually impossible to find. That probably explains the excitement in the pro-regulation camp over an incident last week involving the unlikely combination of AT&T and Pearl Jam.

It all started one week ago Sunday, during the annual Lollapalooza music festival in Chicago. Pearl Jam was singing the ancient hit “Another Brick in the Wall,” updating it to include some not-so-complimentary verses about George Bush. So far so good. But, as it turns out, some of the Bush references were bleeped out of the webcast of the event being shown on AT&T’s “Blue Room” website (attblueroom.com).

The incident has been seized on by pro-regulation advocates as their long-sought “smoking gun” on the need for neutrality rules. “Over the weekend, AT&T gave us a glimpse of their plans for the Web when they censored a Pearl Jam performance that didn’t meet their standard of “Internet freedom,” reported SavetheInternet.com. “See what the Internet would look like without Net Neutrality,” advertised Free Press.

Pearl Jam itself declared itself a political victim, issuing a statement stating that: “What happened to us this weekend was about something much bigger than the censorship of a rock band.”

Actually, the incident was about something much smaller than that.


As a first matter, it’s unclear why the words were bleeped. AT&T says it was the fault of an over-anxious contractor, hired to keep indecent content off the webcast. Since Blue Room a non-age-restricted website, that’s probably a reasonable thing to do. But what if the aim were in fact broader, and this was an intentional effort to “censor” political comment? Frankly, even then, it’s hard to get worked up. AT&T’s “Blue Room” hardly has a bottleneck over news and information. It hardly has a bottle at all. I’m willing to bet that the vast majority of Americans have never heard of Blue Room, much less visited it. If the goal was to keep Pearl Jam’s policy views from the American public, it would be hard to think of a more ineffectual way to go about it.

AT&T did have exclusive rights to webcast Lollapalooza. But that was due to a voluntary contract between the event’s organizers and AT&T. Although the details aren’t clear, no one has hinted at any arm-twisting. It’s also unclear what the deal said about AT&T’s ability to filter content, so it is possible that a contractual violation did occur. In any case, if Lollapalooza’s organizers are unhappy about AT&T’s webcasting, they are of course free to sell the rights to someone else next year. Or not to grant exclusive rights at all. (Concerts, after all, may want to be free).

At any rate, if this was an exercise in censorship, the whole thing was an utter failure. Pearl Jam ended up getting massive publicity for its views. It was the bleep that launched a thousand blogs. More than that actually: a Google search last weekend produced 442 news stories and 8.904 blog posts with the words “Pearl Jam” and “AT&T”.

If anything, the incident showed how futile attempts at censorship would be in today’s media marketplace, even by a company as large as AT&T. To answer Free Press, yes, we can see what the world would look like without neutrality regulation. It looks good.

  • David Bruggeman

    It’s been reported that other bands have been previously censored by the same operation, and only when Pearl Jam was affected did this attract any attention. So it would appear that the attempts to censor are not futile, unless you’re already a big name.

  • David Bruggeman

    It’s been reported that other bands have been previously censored by the same operation, and only when Pearl Jam was affected did this attract any attention. So it would appear that the attempts to censor are not futile, unless you’re already a big name.

  • Anonymous

    Interesting point. Whatever the situation with other incidents (details are still coming out), I still don’t see Blue Room as having any significant power to squelch information getting to the public. Its one among countless websites. And the downside for Blue Room attempting to muzzle political views it doesn’t agree with is still large — these things do tend to get out eventually.

    One other possibility is that Blue Room was consciously trying to keep its webcasts “politics free” — and it or its contractor was bleeping out political references in general. I wouldn’t see that neccesarily as a problem — if they want an entertainment site and not a political site, that’s their right. If so, however, it was done inconsistently, since I’ve read of a number of political statements being aired on these webcasts (all critical of Bush and/or Republicans, by the way). In any case, if AT&T’s goal was to avoid politics, though, it certainly fumbled that big time.

  • Anonymous

    Interesting point. Whatever the situation with other incidents (details are still coming out), I still don’t see Blue Room as having any significant power to squelch information getting to the public. Its one among countless websites. And the downside for Blue Room attempting to muzzle political views it doesn’t agree with is still large — these things do tend to get out eventually.

    One other possibility is that Blue Room was consciously trying to keep its webcasts “politics free” — and it or its contractor was bleeping out political references in general. I wouldn’t see that neccesarily as a problem — if they want an entertainment site and not a political site, that’s their right. If so, however, it was done inconsistently, since I’ve read of a number of political statements being aired on these webcasts (all critical of Bush and/or Republicans, by the way). In any case, if AT&T;’s goal was to avoid politics, though, it certainly fumbled that big time.

  • http://www.copyrightings.com Kevin

    According to you, censorship in today’s world will result in the exposure. However, as you fail to discuss, two smaller bands were censored at Bonnaroo: John Butler Trio and the Flaming Lips.

    They didn’t get the publicity Pearl Jam did but they were similarly silenced.

    Maybe research into the issue will help you understand the stakes: http://blog.wired.com/music/2007/08/has-att-censore.html

  • http://www.blurringborders.com kdonovan11

    According to you, censorship in today’s world will result in the exposure. However, as you fail to discuss, two smaller bands were censored at Bonnaroo: John Butler Trio and the Flaming Lips.

    They didn’t get the publicity Pearl Jam did but they were similarly silenced.

    Maybe research into the issue will help you understand the stakes: http://blog.wired.com/music/2007/08/has-att-cen

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com/ enigma_foundry

    But what if the aim were in fact broader, and this was an intentional effort to “censor” political comment? Frankly, even then, it’s hard to get worked up.,

    Yeah, by all means, let’s get used to censorship.

    That would rather fit in with the PFF agenda:

    http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com/2006/09/07/progress-freedom-foundation-and-ip-centrals-role-model-the-fascist-police-state/

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com eee_eff

    But what if the aim were in fact broader, and this was an intentional effort to “censor” political comment? Frankly, even then, it’s hard to get worked up.,

    Yeah, by all means, let’s get used to censorship.

    That would rather fit in with the PFF agenda:

    http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com/2006/09/07/p

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com/ enigma_foundry

    Net neutrality regulation has often been described as a “solution without a problem.” While supporters produce hypothetical concerns like little chocolate doughnuts, real-life examples of abuse have been virtually impossible to find.

    Yes, if you read the CEI website, I suppose they are hard to find.

    But, back in the real world, serious attempts by corporations/governments to limit freedom of speech are a common occurrence:

    However, I have on nearly every post Tim Lee has made on this subject, provided evidence of harm that was done, for example a Telcom in a labor dispute that blocked access to pro-striker web sites, and this type of non-content-neutral filtering is exactly the stuff that the very few large conglomerates that own the market for broadband would like to be able to do.

    FOR EXAMPLE:

    In 2004, North Carolina ISP Madison River blocked their DSL customers from using any rival Web-based phone service.

    In 2005, Canada’s telephone giant Telus blocked customers from visiting a Web site sympathetic to the Telecommunications Workers Union during a labor dispute.

    Shaw, a big Canadian cable TV company, is charging an extra $10 a month to subscribers in order to “enhance” competing Internet telephone services.

    In April, Time Warner’s AOL blocked all emails that mentioned http://www.dearaol.com – an advocacy campaign opposing the company’s pay-to-send e-mail scheme.

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com eee_eff

    Net neutrality regulation has often been described as a “solution without a problem.” While supporters produce hypothetical concerns like little chocolate doughnuts, real-life examples of abuse have been virtually impossible to find.

    Yes, if you read the CEI website, I suppose they are hard to find.

    But, back in the real world, serious attempts by corporations/governments to limit freedom of speech are a common occurrence:

    However, I have on nearly every post Tim Lee has made on this subject, provided evidence of harm that was done, for example a Telcom in a labor dispute that blocked access to pro-striker web sites, and this type of non-content-neutral filtering is exactly the stuff that the very few large conglomerates that own the market for broadband would like to be able to do.

    FOR EXAMPLE:

    In 2004, North Carolina ISP Madison River blocked their DSL customers from using any rival Web-based phone service.

    In 2005, Canada’s telephone giant Telus blocked customers from visiting a Web site sympathetic to the Telecommunications Workers Union during a labor dispute.

    Shaw, a big Canadian cable TV company, is charging an extra $10 a month to subscribers in order to “enhance” competing Internet telephone services.

    In April, Time Warner’s AOL blocked all emails that mentioned http://www.dearaol.com – an advocacy campaign opposing the company’s pay-to-send e-mail scheme.

  • the coach

    Good job, enigma, cutting and pasting from Save the Internet.
    (http://www.savetheinternet.com/=threat)

    Too bad all of those cases were either 1.) dealt with by the FCC and/or DoJ under existing competition law or 2.) debunked.

  • the coach

    Good job, enigma, cutting and pasting from Save the Internet.
    (http://www.savetheinternet.com/=threat)

    Too bad all of those cases were either 1.) dealt with by the FCC and/or DoJ under existing competition law or 2.) debunked.

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